Spring 2019

Now before I post about the rest of spring here in the UK, I’ve got to re-wind to before Easter… somehow I completely forgot to share a pic from a highly spontaneous and totally unexpected visit from an old friend from high school…

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Some of you may recognise Ben N from Ramapo High School who emailed me two hours before he was flying to the UK from Seattle — and lo and behold he was going to be in Bath the very next day — which happens to be an hour’s train ride from where I am currently working… so I added another train journey to my week and had dinner in Bath with Ben. 🙂 It was great to see him in person — just wish I had been able to hang out for longer. The last time we saw each other was in Seattle in 2002 when I had just boarded the tall ship Europa when I was on my Watson Fellowship.  That was just under 17 years ago– yikes we are getting old!! Anyways great to catch up!

Right… so jumping back to early May after my parents and sister returned to the East Coast… we welcomed visitors from North Wales — Ceri, Angela, Kate and Rachel! I don’t have many good pics of the visit but we enjoyed an afternoon at Roath Park Lake and then the following day a visit to Tredegar House in Newport a National Trust property about 20 min from our house. If you look very closely in this pic you can see 3 rascals running between various sculpted hedges…

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By the time we caught up with them they had already made it to the second floor of Tredegar House, the big mansion on the property… mild heart attack there for a minute… but hey ho you have to applaud the independence?!

Another highlight of early May was a hike up Pen-y-fan, the highest peak in South Wales.  This time we went “up the backside” — meaning not the touristy route we took Morgy up last year.  This route is longer, much quieter, and more scenic.  We didn’t make it all the way to the top because Morgan was going so fast on the way up I could barely keep up with him at times!  We knew at that pace he would totally crash on the way down and we wanted to ensure it was still an enjoyable experience.  He did great though and it was a lovely day!

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Three weeks later, it was time for yet another British school holiday!  For non-British readers, you may be surprised by how many breaks we’ve had this year.  The British school year is obviously different to the American one.  It’s split into three terms: autumn, spring and summer.  Each term has a half term break and there’s a break in between each term.  So approximately every six weeks we have a break of either one or two weeks in length.  The summer vacation though is much shorter than the American one, with Morgy’s last day of Reception this year on 19 July 2019.

Anyways I digress!  Over the May half term we headed north to visit the Lake District, a very beautiful part of the country on the west coast of England, a couple of hours south of the Scottish border.  We were joined by Aled’s parents, Ann and Steve, for the first half of the week.  This is the lovely house we stayed in, not far from the shores of Lake Windermere:

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The weather in this part of the country is notoriously pretty bad and we didn’t have great luck with it while we were there.  That said, we still managed to get out and about on most of the days and enjoy the beautiful sights in the area.

Naturally, we engaged in a lot of boating activities, including a little cruise to various points around Lake Windermere on a lovely boat called “Princess of the Lake”.

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After a short stop in Ambleside for a coffee and a look at the Roman ruins, we hopped back aboard to go to Wray Castle.

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The views across the countryside were beautiful.

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On day two, we took an excursion northwards to see an old friend of Ann’s who she hadn’t seen for nearly 60 years!  Wow.  I don’t have any pics of the visit but it was lovely to meet Gwenda and family and Morgan enjoyed playing in the yard with their grandchildren.  Afterwards, we did a tour of the northwestern Lake District which was gorgeous…

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…albeit a little bit wet!

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We learned that in the Lake District you just take your umbrellas everywhere and just get on with it!

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The highlight of the trip for me was the day we spent on Ullswater, a lake about 30 min to the north of Windermere.  The trip over the pass afforded beautiful views…

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…and we found a lovely sail boat to rent on Ullswater.  By now I haven’t been sailing for about 10 years so I was a bit nervous to see if I would remember what to do!  The people at the boat club were awesome — they just threw me and Aled in for a trial run and with a nice gentle breeze we were off!

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It all came back instantaneously and I loved being back on the water under sail power!  So after a quick little spin we came back to the dock to pick up the rest of my motley crew…  little did I know Ann and Steve had never been sailing before!

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Here’s the next Captain Morgan in training!

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I loved it — and am now dreaming of buying our own sail boat for trips out of Cardiff harbour.  Thanks Steve for this awesome idea!

After our sail, we enjoyed a nice pub meal in Ullswater followed by a walk to the Aira Force waterfall.  The forests in the Lake District are magical.

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Here is the waterfall itself:

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And here is a view of the bridge at the top:

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Now the next day was Aled’s birthday and the weather looked ok in the morning and terrible in the afternoon.  So we headed down to Lake Windermere first thing with Aled’s birthday present, an inflatable kayak.  Skeptical as we were about the whole concept, we actually thought the kayak was pretty comfortable and fine for a paddle on a calm day.  (We also don’t have room to store a fiberglass kayak in our current house (no garage!) so this was our best option for getting Morgy out on the water locally.)  Hurrah!

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In the afternoon, I managed to get a lunch reservation at a very fancy restaurant in Ambleside to celebrate Aled’s birthday and Ann’s birthday — and while we were at it, why not throw in Ann and Steve’s upcoming 50th wedding anniversary?!  So we went for a 5 course tasting menu which included some amazing dishes such as this lamb main:

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Morgan went a la carte with the braised beef for main and elderflower cheese cake for dessert.  Here is Ann showing off her “Happy Birthday” cheesecake plate — I can attest to the fact that there was not one chocolate letter left on that dish in the end!

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It was an absolutely fantastic meal — hats off to the team at the Old Stamp House — best meal we’ve eaten in a very long time.  I definitely recommend it if you are passing through Ambleside but you had better book ahead!

There are too many pictures to share so I will just add one or two more highlights from the last days… first the steam gondola on Lake Coniston…

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And the Beatrix Potter house and garden which inspired the Peter Rabbit stories:

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We hadn’t read many Peter Rabbit stories before coming here (although Morgy sometimes watches the Peter Rabbit cartoons on TV) but Morgy picked out a a great little book at the gift shop called “The Tale of Tommy Townmouse” which had some nice metaphors for real life.  And somehow having been in the garden which inspired Potter’s stories made me connect with it more.  I also loved reading about the author herself — an independent-minded woman who bequeathed much of her estate to the National Trust when she died.  My list of inspirational British women is growing (see previous post on Cornwall and the Minack Theatre).

Of course this one isn’t on that list:

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As I am now starting round 3 of my British immigration process (a process made significantly more difficult by Theresa May when she was Home Secretary) I can’t say I felt much sympathy.  GOOD RIDDANCE.

 

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Easter 2019

Over Easter, we welcomed the Americans to Cardiff! Mom and Dad arrived by train from Heathrow on the 12th, just at the start of Morgan’s two-week school holiday. After a laid-back Saturday in Cardiff to recover from jetlag, we started our adventures in England…

First stop was Tyntesfield, a National Trust property south of Bristol. We were here last year with Nic and Liz and thought the parents would like it too. It’s a pretty place!

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I had to work in Gloucester on Monday so those guys carried on down to Cornwall and I went home… but drove down Monday night after work. The view from the house we rented outside Newquay was awesome….

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A highlight for the boys was hiring a red Morgan car for the day — isn’t it cool?

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We drove it down to the Lizard and enjoyed a nice lunch overlooking the water before going for a walk around the headland.

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The scenery in Cornwall is absolutely beautiful — there’s some really gorgeous coastal views!

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We spent another great day down at Watergate Bay where Aled got to go surfing (hurrah!).  Morgy played on the beach while I read a book and the parents went for a walk.

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And then by chance we got a table at Jamie Oliver’s “Fifteen” restaurant which was really delicious!  What luck!

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We were super lucky with the weather that week and enjoyed an absolutely perfect day down at Porthcurno, an absolutely stunning beach.

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Perhaps the highlight for me was the Minack Theatre which is an open-air theatre overlooking Porthcurno.  Most impressive is that it was created by a woman named Rowena Cade over many decades.  There are pictures of her in her 80s carrying stones down the hill!  What an inspiration!  As I mentioned in my Lanzarote post, I am really inspired by these sorts of creations — and in this case even more so because this one was led by a woman.

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With our last day in Cornwall we were torn between the Eden Project and the Lost Gardens of Heligan but opted for the latter.  It didn’t disappoint, with beautiful spaces created all over this estate.

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I think we also timed it well with some gorgeous flowers in bloom.

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We also happened upon an egg competition in the barn area which was a first for me!  Look how many eggs there are…!

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And then it was back home to Cardiff for Easter and Easter egg hunt — organised by the experts, Gramma and Grampa.  It’s funny being on “the parent side” of the holidays.

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Easter itself was another perfectly sunny day so we organised a canoe trip down the Wye.  It was a fantastic day for it…

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…and fun was had by all!  I would definitely recommend this activity and it’s really easy to organise.  You sign up with a company out of Symonds Yat — they drive you 10 miles up the river, drop you in with a canoe and you just paddle down for a few hours back to where your car is.  Great fun!

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On Monday, Karen, Anthony, Jack and Joey arrived to add to the fun.  Morgy loves hanging out with Jack and Joey and wow — what a lot of energy they have together!  By now Joey is 6, Morgan is 5, and Jack is 4 and they are hilarious together.  I have no idea how my in-laws managed 5 boys.  Three was plenty for me for one week hahaha!

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Here we are on some “pedalos” on Roath Park Lake. (Row boats all taken 🙁 )

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On their first full day, we headed up to Dan yr Ogof to see the caves — but poor little Jack got car sick and puked all over my car 🙁  So the others continued up while we headed back to base.

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Here they are at some iron age forts.

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Karen, Anthony, Jack and I met them in the afternoon for a ride on the good old Brecon Mountain Railway.

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The normal black engine was out for servicing but we still had a nice ride in this red steam engine.

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And then the good weather ended — just in time for our tour around Cardiff Castle.  Well hey, they had to get a taste of the real Welsh weather at some point right?!  😉

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Inside the castle, we visited the war museum section and read some really interesting British viewpoints of the American revolutionary war.  This was my favorite quote: “Meanwhile in America they were faced with a less formal style of warfare.”  LOL.  Just say it: you lost guys!

The boys enjoyed dressing up in old soldier uniforms:

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And then it was off to the Cardiff Museum… and after that, up to Castell Coch.  I’m telling you — these Americans are not joking around when they visit other countries!

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On Thursday I had to go back to work, Mom and Dad flew back to New Jersey.  K&A spent a couple of days in Cardiff before heading off to Windsor Castle on their way back to Heathrow.

It was a great visit and really nice to see everyone in Cardiff!  Thank you for coming all this way and we hope you had a nice time!!  Big hugs Morgans — I miss you!!! XOXOXXO

PS — apologies friends in Cornwall and Devon — there was too much going on to coordinate a visit this time around!  Hope to see you again soon in your neck of the woods or ours XOXOXO.

PPS Will blog about Ceri & Ang’s visit in the next post.

Winter 2019

Hello and thank goodness it’s nearly spring!!  Winter be gone!  I’m totally ready to ditch my winter outfits and scarf and move on with life already!

So the past 3 months have gone so quickly — that’s because I’ve been working really hard at my new job.  I’m on contract at the Quality Assurance Agency for Higher Education as a business analyst on another change programme.  The QAA quality assures the universities here in the UK and the headquarters are located in Gloucester, a small city about 60 miles to the north east of Cardiff.

On a holiday, or very late at night, you can make it from Cardiff to Gloucester in about an hour.  In rush hour though, it can take two 🙁  This is one of the joys of living in the “M4 corridor”…!  Down below is a map of where I drive — thank goodness for google maps which helps me determine the best route with traffic info.  By now I’ve been on nearly every single possible road between Gloucester and Cardiff.  My favourite for speed is the M4 to M48 (over old Severn Bridge) to M5.  Of course the A466 along the River Wye is beautifully scenic – but after about 1.5 hours I DON’T WANT SCENERY. I WANT TO BE AT HOME WITH MORGY AND ALED!

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Because it’s a very long drive, I couldn’t possibly do it every day — so I’ve found a lovely house share in Gloucester with a lovely lady named Claire.  She lives in a giant house made in the same era as our house in Cardiff so it’s like “home from home” as they say here in the UK.  Even the stairs are on the same side as ours and the tiles are like ours too:

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There are two other “lodgers” in the 6 bedroom house — I am the youngest.  They are all working professionals who “work away” in the week.  So everyone is asleep by 10 as we’re all so exhausted from our drives — mine is the shortest.  John comes from Liverpool and Steve comes from Cornwall.  On Monday, Claire is lovely and cooks us dinner:

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So typically I am here on Monday, Tuesday and Thursday nights, driving home to Cardiff on Wednesday and Friday.  I miss the boys a lot of course but I feel proud that Aled and I are figuring out a way to earn a decent enough living to give him time to work on his software idea.  So Aled obviously does all the school drop offs, pick ups, and homework and, while Morgy is at school, works really hard on his project.

Gloucester meanwhile is an interesting little town. It’s at the top of the Severn River and its historic dockyards are located just across the street from the building where I work. At some point I will have to visit the National Waterways Museum.

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The docks are a nice place to sit on a sunny day at lunch time and there are a range of nice boats to look at.  To be honest they just make me want to sell up and go sailing again!

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Gloucester is also very famous for its beautiful cathedral which is only a few minutes’ walk from my office.  I have been a few times now — it’s a very awe-inspiring place.

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Here is the inside:

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So that is what is happening work-wise — my contract goes until early May but it may be extended until summer, we’ll see.

Back at the ranch…. we’ve been up to our usual gallivanting on the weekends.  In January we took Morgy for his first ice-skating adventure which he seemed to enjoy:

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And also went for a walk near Castle Coch with his buddy Zeke and fam. It was very, very cold that day!!

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In early February we had two sets of visitors: Estelle and Nic and Liz.  Unfortunately I haven’t got any good photos of the visitors so will just say how lovely it was to see them all!  Thank you for coming to see us in Cardiff dear friends!!  You significantly brightened up an otherwise gloomy time of year.

In late February, there was a mini-heatwave in the UK and we took full advantage of the sun and warmth. Here we are at Southerndown with Sarah, Ed, Oliver and Tom, friends from the neighbourhood and school.  They are another international family with Ed being from Australia.  Ed and I have been known to share a grumble about sunshine levels in our current abode!

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By miracle, the February school half-term coincided with this wonderfully warm (yet scary for February!) weather and even luckier still, Aled and Morgy had organised train tickets to visit Nanna and Taidi out in Pembrokeshire.  Morgy was absolutely delighted to be on the train!

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They took various walks around the lovely Pembrokeshire coastal path, soaking up plenty of that sunshine.

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Here is Morgy out flying our favourite kite:

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And then it was mid-March and it was Morgy’s 5th birthday!  We had some small celebrations at the house on the actual day but then went all out for a party at Mambo, a gigantic indoor play area.  I was so busy talking to the other parents that I barely got any good photos — Aled got a great video but it’s too long to post.  So here is a picture of the crazy volcano cake we made… a transportation nightmare I might add!!

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Now although I’ve mostly turned this blog into a family posting sort of thing, I feel it’s necessary to say something about the political mayhem that we’ve all been enduring here in Britain…. yes that would be Brexit folks!  WHAT A MESS!!

Brexit is a never-ending saga which has totally divided and paralysed the country.  By now, irrespective of how anyone voted way back in 2016, everyone just wants it to be over and done with.  It has turned into the biggest waste of time, effort and money ever… and for someone who has spent over a decade solving business problems it’s particularly infuriating because it’s clear that we are working on a solution for a non-problem.  Meaning: many of the people who voted for Brexit were frustrated about various things happening in this country — the failing health service, wage inequality, and frankly a racist attitude towards immigrants.  Very few (if any) of these problems were a direct result of Britain’s EU membership.  So here we are, three years (!?!?) later, scrabbling to find a way forward.  The politicians are having a hard time doing that because all the solutions proposed are not going to solve any of the actual problems in Britain… and leaving the EU is likely to make the country economically worse off than we are now, which will in turn only exacerbate Britain’s domestic challenges (such as its crumbling infrastructure).  GREAT PLAN GUYS.

In past I may have concluded with: “yoga breathing required”.  Today I feel like we need something more than yoga breathing: revolution required…?

I saw this billboard a few weeks ago on Newport Road, just around the corner from our house.  If you zoom into this pic you can read: “Plan. Adjust. Innovate” and its Welsh translation above.  It’s an attempt by the government to get people to realise they have to prepare for Brexit.  The problem is — even days from leaving, no one still knows what’s going to happen!  It’s causing unprecedented uncertainty for business, for central government, and apparently contributing to general anxiety levels in the British population.

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I saw this on a lady’s desk at work the other day and felt it described British politicians quite well:

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Depressing times in all our countries of nationality 🙁 Of course we were saddened by the news of the terrorist attack at a mosque in Christchurch, New Zealand a few weeks ago.  Our hearts go out to everyone affected — such sad times and I can only imagine the shock to the national psyche.  Kia kaha friends.

End of political section… I will end with a nice last moment of March.  We spent last Sunday in Cardiff and it was a lovely day. Look at Morgy that little rascal! It’s hard to get a good pic of him.

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I got the boys dressed up because we had vouchers to go to the orchestra (thanks Ceri, Angela, Kate and Rachie!).  But first we managed to rendezvous for lunch at Miller & Carter with Aled’s cousin Sian and her husband Geraint who were down in Cardiff for the football match.  These guys are always a laugh – it was great to see you XOXO

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And then it was off to the theatre for the BBC Family Orchestra concert:

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I really enjoyed the music but Morgy was a bit squirmy during parts. Hopefully I’ve sown some seeds of culture… (?)

Well that’s all for now folks — hope everyone is doing well in your various corners of the earth!  Big hugs from Cardiff  XOXOX

 

Lanzarote

It was our 10th wedding anniversary on 28 December 2018 — yes ten years have passed since we got hitched on this mountain in Queenstown!  Doesn’t time fly!

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To celebrate (and because neither of us had even bought each other a card!) I decided we would fly to Lanzarote, one of the Canary Islands (just off the coast of Morocco). It ticked many boxes: sun for me, volcanoes for Morgy, and possibly surfing for Aled.

For those of you who aren’t aware of our son’s obsession, Morgan absolutely loves volcanoes and has been “studying” them for about two years now, through books and You tube videos.  He is already set on becoming a volcanologist when he grows up so we thought we might as well take him on holiday and make it an educational experience at the same time.

I had been watching Tui for all-inclusive last minute deals for most of December but in the end we opted for a self-catering villa with just the flights from Tui, an airline which I now highly recommend.  They really seem to think about the whole “customer journey” (pardon the management jargon!), from booking, to check-in, and all the way through to getting you home on time.  Unlike some old school airlines like United or British Airways, Tui seems to realise that their passengers are on holiday and actually want to have a fun and relaxing time.

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Look — they even invited Morgy into the cockpit after the plane had landed in Lanzarote — what a nice crew!

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After settling into our villa near Playa Blanca, we wasted no time in getting out to see the sights.  On day two, we headed straight to Timanfaya National Park to see the volcanoes.

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For our aspiring volcanologist, this was literally a dream come true, with awesome views of volcanic landscapes in every direction.

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On the 40 minute bus ride around the park, Morgan declared it “the best day ever”.

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Just fantastic!

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There were also some great demonstrations by the park staff:

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We then headed to the less frequented National Park visitor center where there were plenty of great volcano exhibits:

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Afterwards, we enjoyed our sandwiches in the middle of a lava field:

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To top this off, we climbed up a small volcano in the afternoon:

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… so Morg could collect rock samples for later study 😉  He was literally jumping up and down every time he found another example of pumice!

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Here he is near the top, taking in the view.

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At Timanfaya National Park we had bought a pass which included 6 main cultural attractions on the island, so on day three we drove up to the north of the island to check them out.  The first one was Cuerva de los Verdes, a lava tube which is about 7km long.

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It had some really amazing shapes on the ceiling:

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Afterwards, we headed over to see Jameos del Agua, a site created in part by nature and by a man named Cesar Manrique, a local artist and architect.  Before coming to Lanzarote, I had never heard of Manrique but since visiting, he has become a recent source of inspiration (much needed in the era of Brexit and Trump!).

It’s hard to describe Jameos del Agua so I consulted Wiki which described it as:

“a series of lava caves, located in the municipality of Haría in northern Lanzarote, Canary Islands, Spain. It is also an art, culture and tourism center, created by local artist and architect, César Manrique, and managed by the government of Lanzarote. Jameos del Agua consists of a subterranean salt lake, restaurant, gardens, emerald-green pool, museum and auditorium.”

As they say, a picture is worth a thousand words.  This is a view from across the pool in the lava tube:

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On the other side of the pool, there’s a cafe with a series of little dance floors and a ledge for a band.  Apparently there’s even dinners with music (remind me to visit next time sans toddler?!)

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The structure gets progressively awesome as you emerge from the cave to see this pool:

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Honestly I loved it this space!  And could only imagine the fantastic parties that have been thrown here over the years.

But that was just the beginning of our Cesar Manrique tour.  Next we headed up to Mirador del Rio at the very north tip of the island, where we were amazed by this stunning view:

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Manrique had created this cafe at the top which blended in well to the cliff face.  Sorry not a great picture but the vibe here was so cool and trendy and the view was breathtaking.

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And then onto the Cactus Garden, which sounds a little bit hokey until you get there and think: Manrique you genius!

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It was just another oasis of creativity and beauty…

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And a great spot for a coconut ice cream:

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The days in Lanzarote kept on being awesome, with a trip to Playa Papagayo on the southeastern tip of the island on day four:

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A super spot:

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I love this pic:

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The only thing that could have made this day better would have been a sail on this boat (which we will definitely go on next time if we return!)

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On day five, we tasted some delicious Lanzarote wines, the grapes for which are grown in these really quirky vineyards!

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Because Lanzarote can be a little bit windy, the grapes are grown in these little ditches — cool right?

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Here are the boys on a tour of El Grifo, the oldest winery on the island.  If you like sweet wine, we can highly recommend the semi-dulce white wine from El Grifo– yum!

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Well there are lots of other amazing pics from the holiday, but I will end with just a few more.  Here we are at Famara beach which has a spectacular backdrop and is great for surfing.  I hope we will return here for a surfing holiday in the future.

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On our last afternoon we enjoyed a lovely meal at El Golfo…

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… followed by a stroll on the nearby lava fields:

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There are some amazing cliff and waves views on this walk:

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So that’s all folks!  As you can tell I would highly recommend Lanzarote!  We had an amazing time and it was the best anniversary present ever.  Thanks boys for a great trip before I started work again — I love you XOXOXO

Christmas 2018

Lots has happened since I last wrote…!  I will have to dig deep into the memory banks (and the phone picture gallery!) to recall all the happenings.  Apologies in advance if I miss anything — the past 8 or 9 weeks have been a whirlwind!

… Shortly after we saw Nanna and Taidi at the Botanical Gardens in Carmarthen, Hefin, Emma and Elis visited us in Cardiff.  Hefin was here for a university reunion so we didn’t see much of him to be honest!  Still it was great to catch up albeit briefly.   After a nice meal with Paul, Anurag, Hef and Em on Friday, we took the boys to Techniquest on Saturday.

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The following weekend we headed over to William, Claire and boys in Wokingham.  Morgy loves catching up with his cousins and in this household, it’s almost as if he fits in perfectly as the youngest brother, about 2.5 years younger than William and Claire’s youngest (Dylan).  Here’s Alex, Dylan and Morgy at Dylan and Owen’s Sunday morning rugby practice.

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Afterwards we had lunch and a play at a nearby park.  This swing really got going not long after this shot… 

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Shortly after returning from Wokingham we had dinner with Auntie Angela from Bangor who was down in Cardiff for work.  Here we are at Antoni’s, the new best pizza place on Wellfield Road in Penylan.

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As ever, it’s great to catch up with the Evans clan — just wish everyone were closer so we could catch up more frequently.

And then it was time for the famous British Christmas build up!  Starting with the school Christmas play.  This isn’t a great picture but it was the only one I had to help set the scene…

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Morgy was playing the part of a snowflake, however  I didn’t appreciate that the motif was slightly gangster until I saw the play in full.

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What can I say?  Compared with last year’s nursery performance, this one was a marked improvement in that Morgan actually sang the songs required and even did some basic choreography.  That said, I think we have a scientist on our hands — not a future Broadway star 😉  I was really impressed though when I heard him practicing one song at home completely in Welsh.  My last comment will just be to thank the teachers for their amazing patience and determination to pull off a 20 minute play with about 60 5 year olds.  God bless them.

In other Christmas preparations — we joined my friend Becky for wreath-making again this year at the Roath Park Pleasure Gardens bowls pavilion.

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It’s so fun to come home with a handmade wreath!

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I also went on a mission to resurrect an old family recipe — my Mom’s famous apricot-filled cookies.  I have to include a photo of the recipe itself, hand-written by my Mom’s Mom years ago, and then amended by my Mom on the bottom half.  This is a classic Rutkowski recipe.  Read carefully…

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See picture below for actual result.  Luckily my Mom was only a Skype call away to clarify a few details to produce these delicious cookies!

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Now by the second week of December I had largely given up on the job hunt, figuring I might as well enjoy the run up to Christmas and just start applying for jobs again in the new year.  Naturally this is the best way to test Murphy’s Law… and so it happens I was called for a business analyst contract in Gloucester just 8 working days before the Christmas break.  A short telephone interview a few days later and I was offered a 4 month contract starting on 4 January 2019!  What luck!

And so instead of relaxing when my in-laws turned up on the 18th, I was signing contracts, finding a new umbrella company, withdrawing job applications from other organisations, etc.

In and amongst the admin flurry, we took Ann and Steve to the Potted Pig for a fancy lunch as their Christmas present which was enjoyed by all (sorry Ann I only had a picture of Aled and Steve):

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We also had a walk down at Southerndown:

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And then it was time for Santa!  This was our first Christmas in our house here in Cardiff and we were all really excited.  In the UK, they typically leave Santa a mince pie and a beer or a whiskey.  (Frankly I think this is an insane concept — Santa will be driving his sled drunk — how dangerous!)

As we are a very international family we left Santa a small glass of Pendryn (a Welsh whiskey) and a collection of German gingerbread cookies (known as Pfeffernusse or Lebkuchen) which we had picked up at Wally’s in the arcades in Cardiff (best shop in Cardiff – a must if you visit!).

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And then it was Christmas day and Morgan was delighted with his presents!  What a lucky boy with a new bike and various other bits and bobs!

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We celebrated the day with fellow foodies and beloved neighbours, Paul and Anurag.

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Weeks before, we had agreed the menu would be a delicious, but non-traditional Christmas feast.  Thus we started with our Bucks Fizz and an amazing seafood platter, complete with two lobsters:

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The champagne went straight to our heads so by the time we moved onto the lamb leg roast we were all quite merry…

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After dinner we headed out for a walk/scooter in the park nearby:

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It’s hard to get a good pic of Morg on the scooter because he’s going so fast these days:

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Then there were two Aled-created volcano cakes for dessert (one for Morgan and one for adults with whiskey in the chocolate sponge..!).  And then it was time to watch a movie…

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What a wonderful Christmas everyone!  I hope you had a great holiday season wherever you were.  We are so blessed — and I am so grateful XOXOXOX

 

Autumn 2018

I’ve been busy as ever here in Penylan this autumn as I’ve been applying for lots of jobs — with no luck I’m afraid! It’s been an odd time  for me in that I’ve never had to expend so much effort to get work before.  From what I can deduce, I think there are a number of factors impacting my hunt including:

1. Brexit uncertainty (MOST ANNOYING SITUATION EVER!)
2. Limited opportunities for continuous improvement professionals in South Wales
3. Lots of competition for relatively few highly paid positions
4. Pedantic employers/narrow job descriptions

I had four seemingly good opportunities in October and had interviews scheduled… but then they all “vanished” — meaning a day or two before the interview had been scheduled the recruiter called to tell me the contract had been put on hold due to funding until April 2019 (post Brexit). Or in one instance, I went to an interview but it wasn’t the job I had applied for (some mix up between hiring manager and recruiter!).  Annoyingly the advertised role seemed to be a perfect fit for my skills and Welsh Water is known to be a nice employer.  On the upside I got to have a coffee with Adrian S, an old friend from the IB who I hadn’t seen for ages, who was on contract there.

In early November I had a great interview at Dyson headquarters in Malmesbury, pictured here:

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Yes that is a Harriet Jump Jet at the front door…!  When I showed this picture to Morgan when I got home I asked him what he thought the company made.  He said airplanes.  I said no, vacuum cleaners.  He looked very confused indeed.

In any case I had a really nice interview there. I thought the hiring manager was awesome, I loved the vibe of the company, and I thought it would be a challenging yet rewarding post.  The only downside was that it took me 2 hours to get home in M4 traffic and the role required frequent travel to Europe.  So I withdrew my application before the second interview because the practicalities were impossible with a 4 year old at home and/or no desire in the wider household to re-locate 🙁  Sob.

So I soldier on looking for a good fit for my skills, my parenting responsibilities and salary expectations in and around Cardiff.  The salaries here in Wales meanwhile aren’t anything to write home about.  If you go “over the bridge” to Bristol the salaries jump by 10-20k — but then the commute stretches to over an hour on the oft-accident-filled M4.  If you go to London it seems the salaries practically double!

So in the meantime I’ve done two courses to keep my skills current: the APMG Change Management Practitioner and the Agile BA Practitioner.  I really enjoyed the Change Management one and found it useful but the Agile one I found mostly MEH.  Fun practice exam pictured:

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So that’s what’s happening on the work side of things — hopefully something suitable comes along for me in the new year.

Onto other aspects of life as a “stay at home” mum…   Morgan has settled into school ok –there were a couple of toilet accidents in the beginning but those stopped after an ice-cream incentivisation scheme.  He also got a cold/ear infection so was off school a couple of days in late September.  Other than that I am really impressed with the progress he is making with numbers, letters, etc and he even came home with a Head Teacher’s award in October for asking good questions about snow and ice:

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Well we got on with the carpeting project — old carpet pictured here.

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The first lot of new carpet went in wonderfully in the hallway and Morgy’s bedroom so we went ahead and decided to do the two other bedrooms… and that is where things went horribly wrong.  If I thought the wallpaper not turning up on time was annoying,  you can imagine how irritating it was to have STINKY carpet installed in the middle bedroom.  Yes all carpets have a “new” smell when they are first installed which usually dissipates in a few days — which is what happened in the hallway, Morgy’s room, and our front bedroom.  But the middle bedroom smelled like there had been a smoky house party just in that room and even after airing it out for two weeks it didn’t go.  Very long and annoying story short — the middle bedroom carpet was replaced no less than 3 TIMES before it was satisfactory.

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This meant that the house was a total shambles with furniture in all the wrong rooms for over 5 weeks!  But to end this story on a positive note the fantastic decorators returned two weeks ago to put up the wallpaper and we are very happy with how everything looks now — so all is well that ends well I guess…!

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Onto more fun experiences…  we headed out to Pembrokeshire to see Nanna and Taidi in mid-October.  Here we are at the St. Dogmaels mill where you can buy organic flour milled the old-fashioned way.

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It’s right across the street from an old abbey which is nice to walk around:

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We then headed down to Poppit Sands beach for a walk and a play.  Naturally Morgy got soaked!

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On the way back to Glan y Mor we went for a nice woodland walk in an “ancient forest” — it made me want to start a tree-planting charity!

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We also took two pumpkins from Glan y Mor — one for us and one for Hefin and Emma in Norwich.

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Let me tell you about the dedication it requires to use up even one of these huge pumpkins… we had pumpkin soup, pumpkin muffins, pumpkin pie, and even put roasted pumpkin flesh into our bread maker…!  My in-laws are so dedicated — and god bless my mother-in-law Ann who has been turning Steve’s home-grown veg into delicious meals and treats for decades!  If we all lived like these guys we definitely wouldn’t have any problems with global warming.

Onwards… random but fun outing to the Principality Stadium in Cardiff to see the Wales rugby team practicing.  There were up to 6 free tickets per family so I thought we should take Morgy and Zeke.

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It really was a test to see whether Morgy was too young and/or interested enough to warrant buying tickets to an actual game.  I therefore felt smug when I saw him doing this during the National Anthem (keeping in mind the stadium was at about 5% capacity):

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Back at the ranch, Halloween preparations were in full swing…

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… but we ended up heading to Norwich over the half term so we left our pumpkins with Paul (pictured above) and Anurag to light for tricker-treaters.

We had a lovely time in Norwich with Hefin, Emma and cousin Elis.  We went to this absolutely fantastic place called “Bewilderwood” — an outdoor adventure sort of place with lots of wooden structures, rope bridges, and slides.

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There were also plenty of fun zip lines which the boys loved — here’s Elis:

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And Morgy:

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And fun for the adults too — here are Hefin and Emma having a go on a bigger version:

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Fantastic slides:

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And in the evening there was a super “lantern parade” where the whole place had been decorated with lanterns, carved pumpkins, etc.  It was fab!  If you ever find yourself in Norfolk with kids I would highly recommend this place!

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On the way back home from Norwich we stopped at the Imperial War Museum which was super cool.  Here are Morgy and Aled in front of Morgy’s favourite: the Vulcan Bomber.  He’s watched a documentary on this plane many times with Taidi so was amazed to see it in real life.

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I was really interested to come across this plane which actually flew in food in the famous Berlin airlift in the late 1940’s.  They were called “Rosinenbomber” in German and brought much needed food to Berliners during the Berlin Blockade.

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We had lunch overlooking the airfield and watched as a refurbished Spitfire took off and circled above.

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So yes, the Imperial War Museum is definitely worth a visit if you are in the area!

Now just two more things happenings to add to this post… Thanksgiving at our house with Morgy’s two best buddies from school, Zeke and Oliver (and their families) in late November.  Here I am with the turkey — honestly even with butter stuffed under the skin the meat was still a bit dry… not sure it’s worth the effort!!  Oh well, gravy solves everything doesn’t it?

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All in all it was a really nice day celebrating and eating together:

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And the kids had fun too:

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And finally — a nice day trip out to the National Botanic Gardens in Carmarthen, a halfway point between Nanna and Taidi’s to pick up another lot of apples!  It was an absolutely beautiful day!

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Here are Ann and Steve in the dome:

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I even managed to get them both on the zip line — fantastic!!

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That’s all for now folks — gotta get on with xmas preparations!  I hope everyone is well and staying safe amidst various political, economic, and environmental disasters (such as fires in California, floods, shootings, riots in Paris, Brexit, insane tweets, etc).  Is it me or is this planet getting crazier by the day?!?  XOXOXO

 

September 2018

September has been a busy month for Camp MAD! First and foremost, we reached a big milestone with Morgan starting school. Here he is on his first day (6 Sep 2018) —  can’t believe he is going to school!  We are so proud of him 🙂

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For those of you who are curious about what a British primary school looks like, here is the main playground where we drop the kids off and pick them up:

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We are really happy with the new routine — the school is a 6-8 minute walk from the house across a nice park.  Initially, we did this journey on foot but by week 3 we introduced the scooter which has made it even speedier!

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Let me tell you, neither of us misses the nursery drop offs and pick ups en route to work!  This is far more straightforward — no bike seats in the nursery shed, no rush to find a parking spot on the nursery road, etc etc.

On the way home from school, we often convene at the fallen tree for some mud excavation work with best buddies Zeke and Oliver.  It’s a good opportunity for playing after a day at school and catching up with other kids and parents in the neighbourhood.

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Aled had Wednesdays off in September so on the first sunny one we headed up for a walk in the Brecon Beacons, the mountains north of Cardiff.  It is the first time we’ve been on a hike without Morgan for well, what feels like forever!

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While we loved walking a fairly quick pace, admittedly we felt really guilty sneaking off for a walk while Morgy was at school!  (How life has changed!)  Here’s Aled at the top enjoying some sandwiches and the view:

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There were a of fun events in September, starting with Sandra’s birthday.  Sandra is our neighbour 3 doors down who has lived here for about 30 years.  It was so nice to get so many people together to celebrate!  We all pitched in with cooking but I think Paul and Anurag got the “most dedicated neighbours” award for the amazing hor d’oeuvres and salads!  Here are Paul and Sandra:

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And a rarely seen photo of me and Aled (thanks Anurag!):

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Days later our sister-in-law Angela was down in Cardiff for work so we had a mums’ night out in Cardiff!

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We started with some really fancy G&Ts at the gin bar on St. Mary’s and then had a fab meal a Bar 44 — tapas, yum yum!  Yes there are flowers in that pomegranate gin with elderflower tonic!

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On the following weekend, Morgy, Aled and I spent a very touristy day in Cardiff with an excursion from Bute Park to Cardiff Bay on the St. Katherine’s river boat.

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As you can see, Morgy loved the boat ride and it was a nice way to see the River Taff.  We had a nice lunch down in the Bay, followed by a walk along the waterfront.   Check out the houses in the background here down by the wetlands — they look very Dutch!

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In other news, we are on the home stretch with our home improvement work with the hallway redecoration project.  It doesn’t sound like it should be that difficult but it’s turned into a bit of an epic tale.  Long story short we picked out the wallpaper for the top section and the matching paint for underneath.  The decorators arrived on time and worked away very efficiently… here we are halfway through… things were looking great…

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… then late on day 1 I was wondering why the wallpaper hadn’t been delivered so I called the company to find out what was going on and lo and behold the wallpaper was OUT OF STOCK!  Thanks for letting me know…!  … and would take 9-10 weeks (YES WEEKS) to re-print.  This led naturally to a Penylan sort of mental breakdown but with moral support from all our immediate neighbours I have made it through this rough patch (first world problems!!).

Anyways Mike and Andrew the decorators were great and advised that the wallpaper was the last thing to go up anyways so everything else has since been done and they will come back when the acorns and oak leaves are finally etched by small elves somewhere in England on 80 meters of wallpaper — hopefully this side of Christmas!

Yes everyone this is my life as a stay at home mum — please God let a good contract turn up soon or I may go completely mad!

Lastly we celebrated my birthday in late September.  Milestone depicted in vegetables below as we have been instructed by the school to practice numbers in any way possible:

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Thank you to Paul and Anurag for such a lovely birthday meal:

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These guys should really open a restaurant here in Penylan — not only because they are fantastic cooks but also because we have recently been overrun by pizza restaurants! Don’t get me wrong, the newest pizza place is good — but do we really need 4 pizza places on a road that is only 200 yards long? I’m not so sure.

 

August Bank Holiday

Almost as soon as we were over our jet lag we went up to North Wales to visit Uncle Ceri, Auntie Angela, Kate and Rachel. The weather was hit and miss but we still managed to get out for some really fantastic day trips in the area.

We started with a lovely walk in the Snowdonia National Park:

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Here are Ceri and Aled:

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And a great pic of Angela and Ceri:

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I couldn’t resist putting this one in of Ang and the kids — obviously taking this walk very seriously!

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The girls took turns riding in our car to spend even more time with Morgy — here he is with Rachie:

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…en route to this beautiful lake:

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The careful observer may note that Rachie is up to her usual tricks… just about to fill her boots with WATER… AGAIN!

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Everyone got pretty soaked so soon we headed back to the house:

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…for Uncle Ceri’s favourite: BBQ!

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I purposely chose that pic to show off the amazing kitchen/dining room extension that Ceri and Angela worked so hard on last year. They have created such an awesome space — well done guys!!

BBQ in the sun with wine was also quite pleasant!

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I’m always keen to see a new part of the country so the next day we headed out onto the Llyn Peninsula to do some exploring. Here is a cute little village called Nefyn on the north coast.

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It was a nice walk for everyone along the beach with a few minor delays here and there:

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Here is Morgy at the cliff head:

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Check out these quaint views of the countryside:

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And then we headed to the south side of the peninsula to Abersoch, another popular destination on the Llyn.  To be honest, the place was crawling with people in very posh vehicles so I didn’t enjoy it as much as I enjoyed Nefyn.  Not to be dismayed, we headed to the pub but with three 5-and-unders it wasn’t as relaxing as perhaps first imagined.  I think this picture pretty much sums up parenthood these days:

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The next day Aled, Morgy and I headed over to Portmeirion, an “Italianate village” on the coast.

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It’s kind of hard to describe.  Wiki says Portmeirion “was designed and built by Sir Clough William-Ellis between 1925 – 1975 in the style of an Italian village.”  Admittedly it was kind of random but Aled and I thought it was a great spot — full marks for quirkiness and creativity!

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Around every corner we found some pretty snapshots:

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We hopped on a walking tour and the guide let us in on a secret: the architect made a lot of “tricks of the eye”.  For example see the boat down by the estuary… from far away it looks like it is docked…

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But if you look closely you can see that it’s built out of stone and concrete and is really just an extension of the sea wall… funny right?

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There was a lovely walk around the cliffs — unfortunately the tide was in so we couldn’t enjoy the village’s beach — and then we walked back through some nice forest towards the village and came across this beautiful pond:

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So all in all it was a very nice day at Portmeirion, complete with some fantastic gelato.  If you are passing through this area, I would definitely recommend a visit.

On Wednesday, we left the northerners in peace and headed east towards Chester, a city on the border of Wales and England where Aled went to university.  He has been telling me  how beautiful and wonderful Chester is for over a decade now so I was really excited to see it.  Chester was a Roman fort founded in 79 AD and is one of the best preserved walled cities in Britain.  Here is one of the main streets with these lovely black and white buildings:

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The weather wasn’t the greatest and by then I think Morgy and I were sick of seeing new places so we walked around some of the city walls…

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…quickly saw the Cathedral…

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… and then went to a lovely pub on the river for lunch:

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And then it was time to head home to Cardiff.  But Dadda was insistent that we make one more stop to see the Llangollen Canal, an impressive feat of 19th century industrial engineering.  Originally built around 1805, it was used to transport limestone — now it is used for summertime canal boating.

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Here are Aled and Morgy on the Pontcysyllte Aqueduct, the oldest and longest navigable aqueduct in Britain and the highest in the world apparently…

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Now I’m not usually that bothered by heights but there was quite a drop off this one…

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So this last stop had the desired effect — I have been bitten by the canal boat bug and can’t wait to spend a few weeks one summer puttering around Britain at 4 miles an hour!

Well this post was also supposed to include September but I am too tired now… so I will stop here!  I hope you have enjoyed this little adventure of ours through North Wales!  Thank you to Uncle Ceri, Auntie Angela, Kate and Rachel for having us XOXOXO

New Jersey 2018

We spent the first three weeks of August visiting family and friends in New Jersey, New York and Connecticut.  As always, it was great to see everyone, and thanks to my Mom and Dad for having us and for organizing so many nice get-togethers!

First up was dinner with the Krilov family — pictured here are Louis, Zara and Andrea, long time friends of the family.  We missed Hannah who was off in Europe studying wine-making as part of her culinary degree — it sounds awesome!

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We also celebrated Uncle Charlie’s 85th birthday:

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Here are the boys with Grampa, Uncle Charlie and Uncle Doug:

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Morgy and I traveled down to Toms River with Uncle Doug and “Gramma Arizona” for a few days at the beach.  We were pretty lucky with the weather so enjoyed 4 full days of sun at Seaside Park, Island Beach State park and the boardwalk.

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Mom, Dad, Jack and Joey joined us for a couple of those days which was really fun.  Morgy loves hanging out with his cousins!  Here are the boys in the water with Dad and Uncle Doug.

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The waves were actually quite rough at times as the slope of the beach was quite steep in places.  I should also mention that we spotted two sting rays coming in very close to shore one day which is something I’ve never seen at the Jersey Shore before.  I love rays so was delighted but wasn’t sure if it was a good or a bad sign for the sting rays!

Here’s Gramma Arizona – still going strong at 87!

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And here is Uncle Doug who was a keen helper in the quest to make volcano after volcano after volcano:

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Later in the afternoons, we headed over to the boardwalk for some games and rides:

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Temperatures were hovering just under 90 F plus humidity most days while we were down the shore.   I absolutely love the heat (especially when there’s an ocean or pool nearby) but Aled would have melted instantly!  Morgy was definitely slowing down a little in the heat but we kept them all hydrated and they had plenty of fun as you can see:

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Here are Joey, Morgy and Jack in one of their favourite rides:

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My cousin Kim came over for a visit one night and we had a good catch up over a game of Phase 10.

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Back up in Wyckoff we got organized for the cousins get together.  Aunt Carolyn and my Mom did a super job cooking and preparing for this event.  Morgy loves to bake and we learned lots of great recipes and tricks from Aunt Carolyn, a baker extraordinaire:

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It was fab to see so many cousins all at once.  Pictured here are Rachel, me, Morgy, Jack, Anthony, Karen Joey, Eric, Viviana, Chris, Alejandro and Sonia!

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No cousins gathering is complete without a game of foosball in the basement.  Here’s Josh training up the next generation!

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Then it was off to Mystic Seaport with Mom and Dad.  Here we are in front of the whaling ship Charles W. Morgan:

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I’ve been dying to get Morgan on a tall ship to expose him to some maritime history and give him a taste of my previous life as a tall ship sailor.  Hopefully we can go sailing on one soon.  Here we are raising a yard on the Joseph Conrad:

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One of my favourite activities at Mystic was building this model boat with Morgan which we managed to bring home to Cardiff in one piece!

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I also managed to catch up with an old sailing buddy who lives in New London.  Her name is Krista and she owns a guesthouse in the area (pictured behind her in the photo below).  She works on a research vessel in Antarctica for part of the year too and has been on some incredible adventures.  She’s just gotten married to a nice guy named Phil who I met while I was there — congrats guys and thanks again for having us!

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While we were in New London, we visited the USS Nautilus at the submarine museum which we were able to board and tour.  It was the first nuclear submarine ever built.

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Back in New Jersey, we practiced our swimming lots in Gramma and Grampa’s pool.   Here is Morgy with Gramma:

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And with Grampa swimming to “the island”:

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During our last week, we went on some great day trips to various attractions in the area including Liberty Science Center:

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… which had some fantastic activities for the kids:

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…including this crazy climbing frame suspended 30 feet above the ground:

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Here we are at Field Station Dinosaurs on another very warm day:

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Morgy also loved the budgies at Van Saun park and zoo:

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Morgy and I went up to visit Aunt Karen and Uncle Anthony in New York for a movie at the Palisades Park Mall:

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And a ride in Jack and Joey’s mustang:

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As ever, it was an action-packed trip!  In between the family visits, I managed to catch up with a few old friends from high school and college but there’s never enough to time to see all of them and they’re all getting really busy with their jobs, kids, etc.  Many of them are spread out all over the country by now too.  Here I am with one of my oldest friends from Wyckoff, Avrum Joffe who I got to see for 15 whole minutes (he is a doctor after all!):

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Here I am at Hilary Stevens’ house in central New Jersey for a quick visit with her two daughters and husband (as you can see not easy to get all the kids in this photo!):

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I also managed to see Lisa Todisco, Laura Tillsley and the Vetrano family but I didn’t manage to get any good pictures of them 🙁  Maybe next time 🙂

Let us not of course forget that Aled was slaving away at work in Cardiff while we were off gallivanting overseas!  Here he is at Bute Park on his cycle ride home sending pics of the dinosaur exhibit over to Morgy via Whatsapp:

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He took full advantage of his freedom and took a trip or two to Pembrokeshire.  Here he is camping at Abermawr beach with his good friend Nic:

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This is Aled’s favourite surf beach which looks beautiful on a sunny day:

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Aled also managed to surprise Nanna and Taidi at Glan y Mor where honey extraction was in full swing!  I hope we get to help with this process next year.  Here is Taidi with one of Morgy’s cousins from Wokingham, Dylan:

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So that was August folks!  Actually not completely… for the bank holiday we headed up to North Wales but I will leave that for the next post.  Thanks again to my parents for such a nice trip home!

 

Welsh summer 2018

Long time no post! Yes it’s been a very busy summer for us and I am only now just getting a chance to catch up on the happenings from June. The summer in Wales has been record-breaking hot and dry — wahoo! I’ve mostly loved it except that the British houses don’t have air conditioning so sleeping at night is actually not that comfortable. But hey, I love the sun and warmth so we bought a fan.  Finally — a real summer!  Hurrah!

So back to early June — I was determined that we would all hike up Pen y fan, the highest peak in the Brecon Beacons (the national park just north of Cardiff).  This was the first time Morgan walked up the mountain all by himself.  It was slow going at times but we got there in the end and there was a celebratory ice cream at the bottom.  Well done Morgy!

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Here are Dadda and Morgy at the top – nice view right?

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Our next excursion was out to see Nic and Liz just over the border in England.   We met them at a beautiful National Trust property called Tyntesfield.

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Here are Nic, Liz and Aled in a very pretty orangerie-type building:

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The gardens were absolutely gorgeous:

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As always it’s great to catch up with Nic and Liz — hope to do it again soon!

The next day we had planned to meet up with an old friend of mine from Wellesley so we found a hotel in the Cotswolds to spend the night rather than drive back and forth.  Here we are in front of Dumbleton Hall — photo taken by a budding young photographer!

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The grounds of the hotel were super idyllic:

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And then it was off to Bourton-on-the-Water to see Katherine, her husband and her new son Jacob.  First we headed to the famous Motoring Museum:

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And then to my favourite attraction in Bourton, the model village.  It’s a stone replica of Bourton-on-the-Water — such a quirky and creative place!  Love it.

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Back in Cardiff, we celebrated Morgan’s graduation from his fabulous nursery, Acorns on Oakfield Street.  Morgan has been here since he was about 2.5 years old and I only have high praise for the nursery.

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As always, the staff put on an amazing event, complete with a short play, diplomas, and refreshments for parents and children.  Here is Morgan playing a cow in “What the Ladybird Heard”:

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I had scoured Amazon for the simplest cow costume I could find — I felt sorry for the children who were in head-to-toe outfits in the height of the Cardiff heat wave!

And here’s Morgy in his cap and gown.  After the ceremony he confided that he “didn’t like that black dress”.  But that he “did like throwing my hat in the air”.  Seeing my son in a graduation outfit brought tears to my eyes.  Now that I’m a mum it seems I cry at any possible emotional moment.  I can’t imagine what I’ll be like when he graduates university!  (A mess that’s what!)

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Closer to home, here is Morgan with our good friend Anurag who is kind enough to let our son help close the roof of his green Mini.  I love this pic XOXO

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In the middle of the month, we had visitors from California: Jesse and family.  Jesse is an old friend of mine from MIT who I haven’t seen since Aled and I drove across the US in 2007.  Jesse manages a team in London remotely but was able to work from the London office for a couple of months this summer.  It was absolutely fantastic to re-connect with these guys and we had fun visiting Cardiff Castle and Southerndown beach.  To finish off their short Welsh experience, we drove down the lanes to Maen Llwyd, our favourite country pub.  For an American driving a manual on the left and down a single-car lane Jesse did a superb job following us!

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A week or so later we were off to Pembrokeshire to visit Nanna and Taidi.  It was black currant time at Glan y Mor, which is my favourite time to help with the fruit processing.  Naturally I am improving the production line every year.  As you can see here I have already replaced older members of staff with quicker, younger models.

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It was a nice day on Saturday so we were up in the field with the Land Rover.

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Look how happy my husband is in Pembrokeshire!  He is practically jumping for joy to be back near the coast.

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However by afternoon tea…

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…we concluded that Morgan had the chickenpox 🙁

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At this point, I was heading into my last 1.5 weeks of work and Morgan and I were 12 days from boarding a plane to America.  Aled was also in the middle of a critical project at work.  Needless to say, I was freaking out a little bit — and I was feeling very, very mad.  If you have been keeping up with our past six months of activity, our last 3 holidays have been sabotaged by various viruses so I was really, REALLY fed up with the travel gods.

Thank goodness for Nanna who came with us to Cardiff to look after Morgan while Aled and I were at work that week.  (A million thanks to Ann for her help at this stressful time!)  And poor old Morgy — I had always intended to get him vaccinated because he’s had sensitive skin and I thought the chickenpox would be bad for him as you can see in this picture below.  I think it looks even worse with his super pale skin 🙁  Thank goodness for that Aveeno oatmeal bath stuff — and we also got our hands on some “chickenpox mousse”.  (Things have moved on since the 80s I think!)

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The first two days were pretty terrible but on Tuesday the fever broke and he was in better spirits (thank god!!).  As soon as the volcano drawings started up we knew he was on the mend!

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Then it was just a matter of resting up to get well enough to fly while I frantically finished up my last tasks at work.  Here I am on my last day in front of my famous session calendar.  That proved to be a super tool to initiate weekly management reporting and key metrics across the division.  (Not to mention the fun rainbow colours.)  Yay!

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Although most of the public health sites said Morgan shouldn’t be contagious, I went to the doctor’s the day before we were supposed to fly to get a letter just in case anyone at Heathrow or Newark stopped us.  Turns out I never needed the letter but hey, better safe than sorry!  Here is Morgy on the plane to New Jersey – phew!

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I will post about our trip to the USA soon.  Northern Hemisphere people — I hope you all had a nice summer!  And Southern Hemisphere people, you must be welcoming spring.  The days are definitely getting shorter and colder here.  We’ll need to get a pile of wood soon no doubt!  XOXOXO